Melozone fusca

Status:  Accidental in fall.

Documentation: Description: 18 Sep 1975 Gering, Scotts Bluff Co (Brashear 1976).

Taxonomy:  The former “Brown Towhee” was split into Canyon and California Towhees (former P. crissalis) based on a study by Zink and Dittman (1991);  the brown towhees were assigned to a separate genus, Melozone, in 2010 (Chesser et al 2010).

Ten subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997), seven in Mexico, and these in the US: mesoleucus, resident from Arizona to west Texas, mesatus, resident from southern Colorado to northeast New Mexico and western Oklahoma, and texanus, resident in central and southwest Texas.

Fall:: There is one accepted record:

18 Sep 1975 Gering, Scotts Bluff Co (Brashear 1976)

Another was reported at George Syas WMA, Platte Co, 5 Jul 2000; details were provided, but were not conclusive for this species (Brogie 2004). Interestingly, at about the same time, there was a series of sightings of 1-2 birds from mid-Jun 1999 through 5 Jan 2000 in the Madison, Madison Co area; the observer believed through discussions with citizens that they had been brought from Arizona and released, at least some surviving the winter of 1998-99 at feeders (William Flack, personal communication). Wright (2019) commented that this species has a “habit of investigating vehicle interiors.”

CommentsThis record was published before the split from California Towhee as “Brown Towhee”. This bird,  seen 18 Sep 1975 at Gering, Scotts Bluff Co, was with a flock of migrating sparrows in the observer’s yard (Brashear 1976).  The description given was considered adequate for identification as a Brown Towhee by Bray et al (1986), based on a “brown cap” and streaking in the throat area. The NOURC later deleted the taxon from the official list of the birds of Nebraska as the description was considered inadequate to identify the bird to either of the newly erected taxa, Canyon Towhee or California Towhee (Grenon 1991). This decision was subsequently affirmed (Brogie 1998). We note here that the likelihood of an occurrence of California Towhee anywhere outside its Pacific Coast breeding range is infinitesimally small. On the other hand, the proximity of records of Canyon Towhee to Nebraska, and the presence of a breeding population of this species in northeast Colorado at the same time as this report, provide evidence for our acceptance of this record as pertaining to Canyon Towhee (see Comments).

Canyon Towhee is resident as far northeast as southeast Colorado, inhabiting pinyon-juniper woodlands and shrublands as well as cholla grasslands but has occurred north as far as Boulder Co where there may have been a small disjunct breeding population in the 1960s through mid-1980s (Andrews and Righter 1992), about the time of the first Nebraska report. There is a recent report with photographs 27 May 2015 in Larimer Co (Panjabi 2015). Canyon Towhee also occurs in extreme southwest Kansas, where it is a “casual visitant at any season, almost exclusively in Morton County. Possible summer resident“ (Thompson et al 2011).


NOURC: Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)

Literature Cited

Andrews, R., and R. Righter. 1992. Colorado birds.  Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Brashear, J. 1976. Brown Towhee reported. NBR 44: 30.

Bray, T.E., B.K. Padelford, and W.R. Silcock. 1986. The birds of Nebraska: A critically evaluated list. Published by the authors, Bellevue, Nebraska, USA.

Brogie, M.A. 1998. 1997 (Ninth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 66: 147-159.

Brogie, M.A. 2004. 2003 (15th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 72: 59-65.

Chesser, R.T., R.C. Banks, F.K. Barker, C. Cicero, J.L. Dunn, A.W. Kratter, I.J. Lovette, P.C. Rasmussen, V. Remsen, Jr., J.D. Rising, D.F. Stotz, and K. Winker. 2010. Fifty-first Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 127: 726-744.

Grenon, A.G. 1991. 1991 (Fourth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 59: 150-155.

Panjabi, A.  2015.  Checklist S23668964:  Horsetooth Lake Estates, Larimer County, Colorado, US., accessed 29 Jun 2018.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Thompson, M.C., C.A. Ely, B. Gress, C. Otte, S.T. Patti, D. Seibel, and E.A. Young. 2011. Birds of Kansas.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, USA.

Wright, R. 2019. Sparrows of North America. Peterson Reference Guide. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston and New York.

Zink, R.M., and D.L. Dittman. 1991. Evolution of brown towhees: mitochondrial DNA evidence.  Condor 93: 98-105.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Brown Towhee (Melozone fusca). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 14 Feb 2021